~ With a quick, five-ingredient sauce you mix directly in your slow cooker, these North Carolina-style barbecue chicken sandwiches are super easy and insanely delicious! ~
Barbecue is one of those foods that sparks fiery debate and causes otherwise-rational people to draw some pretty strict regional lines of allegiance. Probably brings a lot of men to blows faster than a pretty woman. No, really.
It’s kinda like chili. (Beans in Texas? Oh no you don’t, cowboy!)
Or like pizza. (Chowing down on a deep-dish pie? Well Chicagoan … just be glad those New Yorkers are too busy folding their super-thin crusts in half to fight about it!)
Barbecue’s the same way. Even the spelling is up for debate … barbecue … barbeque … bar-b-q … BBQ???
The true mecca for barbecue in America is heavily concentrated in the southeastern states (y’all). But the variation is incredible, and the staunch supporters of each barbecue style will tell you their way is the best and only way. Competition at barbecue cook-offs is mighty intense as a result. Bragging rights, you know.
There are wet rubs and dry rubs. There’s the sweet, thick, tomato-based Kansas City-style sauce or the more vinegary, peppery sauces of the Carolinas. And don’t even get a die-hard barbecue fanatic started on the subject of which meat can be used in a proper ‘cue … the wrong choice is practically high treason in some states!
So I realize that I’m treading on hallowed ground in offering up a BBQ recipe today. But I’m game if you are.
Let me be clear, though. I love barbecue. Of any kind.
I’m not picking favorites or choosing sides.
And since I live in Ohio, I’m blissfully removed from having to choose at all (yay – score one for Ohio!). I can embrace the “cowboy style” of West Texas one day and cook up some delicious Memphis-style bar-b-q (topped with pickles, of course!) the next.
So with all due respect, I’m going Carolina-style with this recipe. Eastern North Carolina, to be exact.
The specialty there is a thin but boldly flavored sauce made of vinegar with a bit of cayenne-inspired spiciness. It’s fabulous. My mouth waters just thinking about it (not kidding).
And yes, yes, my dear NC readers … I know you really don’t call it barbecue unless I’ve cooked myself up a hog. I know, I know. But this is my BBQ … m’kay? And I’m going with chicken. Lean and healthy and the perfect backdrop for such a delicious sauce. Trust me. It works.
And here’s why we’re going NC-style today, friends. It’s because I miss North Carolina (sniff, sniff). My family’s favorite unplug and reconnect vacation is, hands-down, the Carolina coast. Corolla, NC and South Carolina’s Hilton Head are our faves, but we’ve stayed all along the Outer Banks and Carolina coastline. From Duck to Avon to Emerald Isle.
It’s all good. It’s all beach (which is … good)!
I just got back from a fantastically raucous vacay in Corolla with 22 of my nearest and dearest. It was hilarious and spontaneous and delicious. My family’s just kind of like that. A whole lot of glass-is-half-full people who make terrible puns but fabulous food. A good kind of family to have, no doubt (except, maybe, for some of those puns).
I miss lots and lots of stuff about the beach, but BBQ is one thing I can recreate back here in Ohio. (Tossing sand all over my floor and permanently moving all 22 of those bad-pun-making aunts and uncles and cousins into my home weren’t great options … so I stuck to what I knew would work – food!)
This recipe is insanely easy. Prep time is about five minutes max (and that’s if you’re on sloooooow beach bum time). No, it’s not the same as spending hours mopping my brow while I slow roast a whole hog over an open pit, but when I’m in a hurry, some chicken breasts and my slow cooker are the perfect substitute. Absolutely captures the barbecue flavor I love, and I’m still out the door in no time!
It’s crazy-good, and those spice lovers in your house can kick it right up with a little extra hot sauce. Oh – and this pulled chicken sandwich is the whole reason I created the recipe for Greek Yogurt Coleslaw. They’re perfect for each other. Perfect. Highly recommended!
So, pile that coleslaw on nice and high, and you’re good to go. Really, really good. Lip smackin’, finger lickin’, chillaxin’ by the ocean good.
I promise, no matter where you live and what kind of barbecue you swear by, you’re gonna love this quick and easy version. And hey – if you need to, just call it something besides barbecue. Call it your new favorite chicken sandwich. Or go with I-Can’t-Believe-How-Delicious-This-Is Pulled Chicken. Whatever works. No matter the name, you’ll definitely be gobbling this up!
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- Crock-Pot Creamy Chicken Corn Chowder
- 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons hot sauce (such as Frank's Red Hot)
- 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast
- Whole wheat buns and coleslaw for serving, if desired (we use our Greek Yogurt Coleslaw)
- additional hot sauce for passing at the table, if desired
- Combine vinegar, brown sugar, salt, hot sauce, and black pepper in your slow cooker. Add chicken.
- Cook in a 3-4 quart slow cooker, on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 4-5 hours. If using a larger 5-6 quart crock-pot, cook on low for about 6 hours. (See note.)
- Just before serving, shred chicken (with two forks) and stir into sauce to incorporate.
- Serve on buns with coleslaw on top or as an accompaniment on the side, and pass hot sauce as needed.
Cook time: Through all of our testing, we found that this recipe works best in a 3-4 quart slow cooker, on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 4-5 hours. If you're using a larger 5-6 quart crock-pot, we recommend cooking on low for only about 6 hours. We do not recommend cooking this recipe on high in a 5-6 quart crock-pot because the chicken tends to overcook and become dry. At the end of cook time, the chicken should be cooked through and should shred easily but also still be really moist and dripping with a bit of vinegary sauce once shredded.
Slow cooker variations: The exact heat and speed of cooking can vary between different slow cookers. Some slow cookers, especially newer models, may cook hotter and faster than others. Our research has also led us to believe that some models allow for imperceptible evaporation of liquid (although you'd expect that no liquid would be lost when using a slow cooker), which can leave your recipes less saucy and moist. Because this particular recipe uses very little liquid, it's particularly sensitive to these variations. No need to worry – it's delicious even when cooked until it's a bit drier. However, that's why we recommend shorter cooking times and/or lower heat for this recipe so that it will still be very moist and a bit saucy once fully cooked and shredded. Adding more liquid will lead to an unpleasantly sharp-tasting sauce (we've tried it) ... the key is simply to control the cook time and temperature to yield the most juicy, fall-apart-tender result.